Editor's Note Section
Fall Issue 2022 Volume 2 Issue 4
Confession: I used to avoid poems about joy or gratitude. I liked my poems dark and disturbed. When I read Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver (although I love being immersed in the natural world) I didn’t always enjoy their pleasure.
But lately I’ve found myself reading poems about joy and liking them. Maybe my reading taste has matured, or maybe it’s just my mature age. Maybe it’s more the effect of the long years of the pandemic or maybe this is my response to feeling overwhelmed by the daily news.
James Crews says, “Without hope, joy is just not possible.” If poetry can bring us hope which can beget joy, then maybe it’s about hope.
Most of the poems I gather into teaching files are about brokenness, and I’ve been surprised to see my file of “happy” poems growing thicker. I’ve become grateful for occasional moments to linger over coffee with friends and Let the bitterness sink to the bottom of our lives. / Let us take this joy to go. (January Gill O’Neil, “In the Company of Women”).
Even when it’s right in front of us, joy can be hard to recognize. Sometimes we need to walk away from our home, as in Laura Foley’s “To See It”:
and turn our head back,
to see it—perched
on the top of the hill, our life
lit from inside.
“Joy is the reaching we do toward each other in midst of what is devastating,” says Ross Gay. I believe the joyous poems I’ve been reading are lifting me from discontent. These seemingly simple poems about bird nests discovered in Christmas trees and Thanksgiving dinner for two aging spouses are showing me how to celebrate the ordinary moments we all know. We should pause our busy days and be grateful for moments such as in Marjorie Saiser’s “Thanksgiving for Two”:
wrinkled hands strong,
in juice glasses, toasting
the decades of side-by-side,
our great good luck.
Wishing you hope and joy as you read the Fall 2022 issue of ൪uartet.
—Gail Braune Comorat
What I’m reading: How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews; Forage by Rose McLarney; A Kinship with Ash by Heather Swan.
൪uartet will go to three issues a year beginning with the January 2023 issue.
Please see the revised submission periods on the Submissions page.
She gripped the steering wheel
beside me in her car, parked in
the movie theater’s empty lot. She
was going to leave him. The afternoon
sky of scrubbed aluminum reflected in
the melting ice puddles. Her blind
little white dog on her lap licked
its balding paws. The SUV ticked and
pinched as the cold filled the interior,
our breath stunned the windshield when
we talked, her tears dripping like welding
beads. Semis rumbled on full of cut
timber braced together for the sawmill.
We met here on her way out of town,
out to the highway and the state
line to say goodbye, to be a witness.
I had watched her dead eyes, watched
her eat nothing, grow thinner until
I could almost see through her. The big
black suitcase loomed in the hatch behind
the back seat. I wanted to tell her anything
that would stop her from shaking, from
pulling herself apart. “I should stay. I
have to go.” How dangerous is loneliness?
Leaving had seemed so easy, like cutting hair,
sweeping a floor, crossing the street. But
the winter wanted more. It was not him she
was leaving, but I did not know that
at the time. Later, I too would have my own
many lived lies. The rest of the gutted forest
tried to retain its balance, a yellow traffic light
blinked at the cross street, a cloud of gulls
flocked overhead and flew into the past.
In this poem I see how I became the woman I wanted to help and support, being the driver and the passenger, the moment of decision, what it means to decide to live a different life, and how I could not understand that decision until it was my own.
As I continue to write, I am entering a space of openness, light, a freedom to get closer to what is
my own experience, a vulnerability that is allowing me to write more intimately about what I see in the world, and letting my poetry be about what I have to say with compassion for what is imperfect.
I have always been obsessed with writing, the ritual of placing words in formation, how letters hold doorways into a world where I can be safe and breathe and see.
Most recently, I have been reading Ada Limón, Victoria Chang, Carl Phillips, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Tommy Pico. These poets speak to me about loss and grief that are helping me see how I can approach this subject. Lately, poets I find myself going back to are Pablo Neruda, Wisława Szymborska, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich.
Called into the Office to Meet My First Woman Boss
with my best
posture, resisting the urge
to scratch my ankle’s itch.
She sits behind
the mahogany desk.
Glossy red lips
eclipse all her other features,
lips that open
and close like a clamshell, emit sound,
my mind too busy sizing her up to catch
their meaning. Will she mold
over months into a slim imitation
of the man with steel eyes who sat here
before her? Could she summon
her whole womanself
to pitch the desk,
switch to a round table and offer
me a seat?
Or has she learned, like most of us,
to trace an outline
as carefully as she applied
that shade of Serious Scarlet
to her mouth?
I started writing poetry as a child, wrote sporadically as an adult, and came back to it with gusto in my recently retired years. Most of my poetry has been written in direct response to personal experiences or particular events. Last year, a fellow poet invited me to join a group creating ekphrastic poems from weekly images of art. This process has given me new perspectives (pardon the pun) on the process of creating poetry. “Called into the Office…” was inspired by a painting by Bikash Bhattacharjee, “In Her Office”. The image was a gateway into so many thoughts and feelings about how we as women negotiate power.
I’ve been reading ekphrastic collections by Jessica Jacobs, Hedy Habra, poetry from Lorette C. Luzajic’s The Ekphrastic Review, and of course poems from members of my ekphrastic writing group. I am intrigued by how the reader might not know the poem was inspired by art, might have an entirely different picture in their mind as they read the poem, and yet the poem originated from the painting. I’m grateful for the time to explore these relationships between visual art and poetry and discover all different ways words can make their way to the page.
I Was the Daughter
I hear her across the waiting room of the
outpatient surgery center as I wait
for my pain shot, New York Times
Thursday crossword on my phone.
I look up without lifting my head.
She sits next to an old man she calls “dad,”
he’s hunched in a wheelchair,
bony knees poking out of blue plaid shorts.
Seated on her dad’s other side, a graying blond woman
the daughter calls Elizabeth, I assume not her mother.
Clipboard with paperwork,
Elizabeth, does Dad have an advance directive?
Yes, he does.
Privacy policies, Dad. It asks if you understand.
Do you understand?
I’ll just initial it for you.
Dad makes a sound, a grunt.
I can’t distinguish words
but she gets it, dad is cold.
She says, I’ll get your sweater from the car.
She walks quickly, purposefully,
head bent forward, arms pumping like a runner
just off the starting blocks,
returns with a loose-weave brown sweater,
tucks it around his shoulders like a shawl.
She checks her phone, email from work.
I can’t see her screen but I know--
because I was the daughter, years ago,
and now I’m on my way
to the place he’s in, her dad.
That hell, sitting in a wheelchair
unable to do anything but
mutter syllables that only
his sixty-year-old child understands,
unable to remember when
that child was five and how
she threw her head back and laughed
when the ski boat went fast
and the wind was in her hair
I have spent a lifetime writing, most of it in the business world. Poetry has existed for me in a
parallel universe. As a child, I would read and reread every poem in the narrow, dark blue book that went with my family wherever we moved: One Hundred and One Famous Poems. At the age of 30, I wrote my first poem and thought of it as a secret message to myself. Years later, I took a poetry class at a community college. Written in the margin of a poem I had submitted as an assignment was the phrase, written by the instructor: “You are a poet.” That magical statement resonated with me as nothing in my creative life had before.
By profession, I am a human resources director, for years in the free-wheeling workplaces that comprise the hospitality industry, and most recently in the administration of a religious
organization. I have discovered that it's possible to reflect the dynamics of my work life in my
poetry. It’s vitally important to me that I pay attention to the aspects of life where I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, and I hope that, through poetry, my observations and memories will illuminate the tiny part of the world that we inhabit.
With my career and education focused on management and organizational development, I haven’t been surrounded by literary influences and have sought them out in other ways. Workshops and retreats led by Cecilia Woloch, Leanne O’Sullivan and others have created in me the desire to read
the poetry of others as I continue to develop my own work. I have, albeit a bit slowly, developed an understanding that poetry can’t be written in a vacuum, and that the soul must be fed by the words
Karen Paul Holmes
He sings for no one but himself
in the shower, trying out his falsetto, baritone, basso—
Figaro, the Rawhide theme, I’ve got you under my skin,
or maybe Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya.
I recognize sheer enjoyment—that no-one’s-listening abandon.
He’s like the mocking birds in our trees, looping through repertoire,
the satisfaction of being in fine voice, flexing
muscle memory: high school choir, the king in The King & I,
community chorus Halleluiah, Halleluiah!
I hear him through the wall, My uncle used to love me but she died
à la Roger Miller, or improvising on Leonard Cohen,
backed by water thrumming in pipes, the drum of showerhead,
not caring whether he gets the lyrics right,
and I’m happy I found this man—even this late in life—
who now turns off the tap and bellows an operatic Mighty Mouse,
Here I come to save the day.
Ah, the love poem—so hard to write! I have no trouble expressing grief in a poem. My first long marriage ended in a sad divorce while my mother was dying of cancer, and then my six-year relationship with a sweet man ended in his sudden death. I wrote fervently during and after those events and have had two books and many other poems published, though not all sad. Now that I’ve been blissfully remarried two years, I’m trying to write good poems expressing happiness. I’m especially drawn to work that combines humor with a serious note. “He sings for no one but
himself” obviously has a lighter tone, but I hope there’s a hint of seriousness too—joy is nothing to take lightly. Even in high school, I related to this line in Kahlil Gibran’s "On Joy and Sorrow": “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
I adore Ross Gay’s book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, for its humor, honesty, and over-the-top joy. In the title poem, the poet recounts his dream in which a robin gave this instruction:
to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones,
the whole rusty brass band of gratitude
not quite dormant in my belly—
it said so in a human voice,
and who among us could ignore such odd
and precise counsel?
Gay doesn’t shy from harsh realities that keep life in perspective, and this gives credence to his joy. Like everyone, I’ve experienced the good and the bad. It feels miraculous to be in this beautiful relationship now but, because I’m 68 and he’s 70, there’s also fear it won’t last long enough. I’m
trying to write poems that feel real, and like most writers will tell you, I write because I can’t not write.
—Karen Paul Holmes
It started innocently enough,
Tom Kha Gai and fresh spring rolls,
then Panang Curry Chicken
and Green Curry Duck—
a good sign we both relish fowl.
Perhaps the spices’ heat
releases us: your PTSD,
my two divorces,
your losses, my crosses.
Then out into the January night
walking and talking across blustery air.
Absurd to think an algorithm devised
by OKCupid’s techs might actually
be right about belated lovers—
99% match, 4% enemy
(though we wonder how we score
more than 100%.) You offer me
your coat, and I gently decline,
being inclined toward independence,
a warm house and faithful cat.
These many months later
we’re climbing Agamenticus
together, and while I’m hardly keen
on hiking, I appreciate wide views.
By the summit I’m steamy
but the gusts rush through
my summery shirt, so
we pull out windbreakers,
my hair uncontrollable,
buffeting my lined face
that you insist on capturing
on camera, over and over.
To celebrate the ascent,
we split a chocolate Easter Bunny,
though it’s early June,
and his feet and ears are melting.
Some risks can’t be quantified.
How unexpectedly old
Your slender strength
propels us higher,
makes me pant.
The mountain’s really just a hill,
but you love seeing so far,
love the wind,
exciting, wild, unsubdued
I grew up on a small New England farm filled with cows, horses, chickens, and ducks. My great uncle and grandfather had huge gardens, generating mountains of produce that my great aunt and grandmother “put up” for the winter. For many years, my great uncle milked his cows by hand, and my great aunt, his sister, cooked on a gigantic (to my young eyes) roaring Glenwood wood stove.
The refrigerator always held a tall pitcher of unpasteurized milk with inches of cream on top, from which I would “help” my great aunt make butter.
How astonishing, in retrospect, that these taciturn, hardworking people also read poetry—Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Lucy Larcom, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—and read it to me.
Growing up this way has meant that I am grounded—pun intended—in both the body and words.
As I write, those earlier poets follow me, or I follow them, everywhere I go and in much of what I
do. As a teacher for many years, always working to foster students’ love of poetry, I’ve learned that they often understand more than they think they do, even when they encounter Dickinson’s gnomic lines. But I emphasize the kind of accessible and affecting poetry that African American feminist
and activist Frances E. W. Harper writes about in “Songs for the People,” and I encourage students
to write poems themselves. Their work is often astonishing, illuminating, evocative, surprising, generous—all qualities I aspire to achieve in my own writing.
1.(Zool.) (Corvus corax), similar to the crow, but larger, with a harsh, loud call.
A traditional trickster hero among the native peoples of the Canadian Pacific
2. A dark stranger come to town.
3. A pepper streak across the night sky.
4. Open beak, a room I cannot enter.
5. A sneer, a leer in a rough corvine heart.
6. A black, shiny color; when days are torn from their edges.
7. A scrap of paper flying over the cliff.
1. Jet black; Star-crossed silhouette pressed against my mask.
2. Darkness; Only one third of the trees eaten by shadow.
3. Nuisance; such small cruelties in the empty house.
4. Impossible: double knot the end of every truth.
1. Never a good idea to let your nightmares out.
2. Pokes a hole through a rookery of balloons.
3. To obtain or seize by violence; Life does this, doesn’t it?
4. To devour with great eagerness; We are fire or the image of it.
5. To tuck behind your ear a secret grief.
6. I pin my breath to his flight.
1.To seek or seize prey; Sometimes life finds one hole in the wire.
2.To be greedy; Only one third of the compost is eaten by lime.
3.To prowl for food; The itch of a match is fire.
4. Even salt tastes like sugar.
5. We all eventually become shadows.
I have always loved music and poetry – from the time I was six I remember being made to perform "Shoogy-Shoo" at the piano, singing the words as a small puppet. Although poems and literature
were at the center of my world, my life inevitably turned to music and as a soprano singing in
operas and concerts across the world I found myself singing other people’s words and emotions, translated as my own. I longed to assimilate my own feeling into words that I wanted to say. I spoke as the poets in the music and internalized Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, Mary Oliver, e e cummings and a host of others but began to feel the urge to speak in
my own voice.
Funny how the fog and redwoods drew me back to California now that the voice has moved down into the whisky barrel range. I have a library of poets and read every day. Each day brings a new favorite poet to my attention and now that singing is no longer my muse, the word has become vital and necessary – a need that erupts from deep within, a need to say who I am before I am no longer here.
Here in this Shangri-La of sorts, I live a life away from the clamor of rehearsal and teaching. I have learned to make a mean rhubarb-raspberry crisp out of my own garden patch and I live with my
Shih Tzu named Molly who keeps me on a short leash. Now I sit quietly inviting the music in
through the window, often on a quiet beam of sunlight through the redwoods. Music is always there
– now as an accoutrement, as a translation of the word but with meter and beauty that has its own cry.
Your face was the terrain
of a river
I can’t stop mapping—
erosion of bone, relentless
seepage, your re-angled
cheekbone and chin,
mid-collapse. At your door,
my murmured goodbye, meant
for your ear only, lost its way
as I tripped on the mat; my lips
brushed your festering jaw—
the kiss, unintended.
A heart can crumble
like sandstone, with one whisper:
“You kissed me . . . t-t-there.”
Was it so wrong? I let you
assume the best of me, as hope will
when faced with ruin.
All along you were dying
for this: to see the Grand Canyon,
the Bright Angel Fault. If only
your ashes lay cupped in my palm,
even a spoonful, as I teeter
near the staggering rim. How
could I forget to pack them?
Now gazing into your absence, the chasm
dropping away forever,
I remember that kiss,
the love you felt, accidentally
truer than fear.
I came to poetry later in life, and I cherish my ongoing apprenticeship. Past attempts to quit left me feeling stalled out, disconnected from something vital. So, I pursue the radiant energies of language and the stimulation of solving another puzzle. Even when ideas fizzle and I feel powerless, writing recharges my curiosity. Where will it take me next? I savor that fleeting dazzle when an image suddenly arcs across stanzas, sparking a circuit I hadn’t expected.
That electricity generates its own timeline—usually, glint by glint. That’s why I try to enact an
insight from author Annie Dillard: “I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.”
Poets who illumine the way for me these days include Mark Doty, Ellen Bass, Ted Kooser, Alice Fulton, Susan Cowger, and Paul J. Pastor.
Writing “Fault,” with its seemingly endless revisions, was like stumbling around an unlit broom
closet, groping for the bare bulb’s pull cord, bumping into things, mostly making a racket rather
than anything approaching music. The memory that inspired the poem felt like moments shared outside of time. (I had tripped then, too.) And what resulted was shocking, then awkward, and ultimately, wrenchingly lovely—my brother’s awe and vulnerable response to my blunder, utterly undeserved.
How is that love, in all its mortal clumsiness, can brush up against holiness?
And how do we as poets shape an approximation that offers a semblance of truth to others? “Fault” took twelve years of intermittent flickers and fumbling to complete. I thank the editors of Quartet
for embracing it.
Julie L. Moore
after Susan Jacobs’ Geneva Girls, acrylic, 24” x 30”
That was the summer day no one
would remember, an ordinary day
at the beach, one of many
for these four friends, now grey
but still together, clad
in skirted swimsuits, facing
the shore as water circled
their ankles & their feet sunk in sand.
Can you see them being bathed
in the sunlight that dispersed
all shadows except those cast
by their own angled arms?
Photographer, then artist, caught
them from the side—liminal & languid
moment between their laughs—long
after their great loves were over,
after betrayals or bereavements rent
the lace around their hearts, leaving them
to tat again the loose & jagged edges.
That, they gladly did together.
Maybe all were grandmas, maybe not,
but three look into the sun that shares
the same perspective as the witness,
as those of us who now behold them,
recognizing the women we’ve loved—
one in front who’s plump,
with short, curly hair & hand on hip,
who in the summers of our youth
whipped up strawberry shortcake
on the fly & made us wash
behind our ears; the second in her wake
with similar hairdo parted on the side,
her body tall & thin, arm rising
to shield her quizzical eyes, who asked
embarrassing questions we tried
to dodge as we picked apples out back;
the third the only one who seems
to pose like your older sister, arm poised
behind her—here’s how you be flirtatious,
she told you once—smile emerging
like the swash after each wave
has broken. But the last woman?
She folds her arms across her waist
& stares at something else, avoiding our gaze
like the aunt who always kept her head down,
afraid to speak. Oh, the mysteries
muscled in those arms! Whom did they hold
or push away? Whom did they carry
through illness or war? What bruises
or beauty marks did they bear?
Their vibrant lives rendered
in black & white, as though everything
were that simple. Don’t you want
to draw near & ask these ladies
what they know before they forget,
beg them not to take their secrets
to their graves? I want to hear their stories
while the seagulls, now approaching
outside our view, will hover above,
waiting for the crumbs to fall.
Since I was born into a family of scientists, I grew up feeling like a misfit. I was always writing
poems and stories and whether invited to do so or not, sharing them. Short stories (usually tragic tales) were Christmas gifts, and poems were gifts on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc., whether the recipients wanted them or not.
I majored in English in college with the intention of becoming a teacher to pay the bills, so I could write the great American novel by night. That didn’t work out. As I became a full-time professor
and raised my children, I found no time for writing.
But then in my late thirties, I watched a documentary film about Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, which deeply moved me. I felt compelled to return to my original raison d'être. I began reading all
the poetry I could, especially the poetry by contemporary writers. I checked out all the books of poetry I could from my local library. The world of contemporary poetry opened up to me. Yet, the poets I tend to return to again and again include Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lucille Clifton, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke’s poem “You Who Never Arrived” is still the most gorgeous love poem I’ve ever read.
I wrote “Bathing Beauties” as part of an event this year called, Celebration Party of the 40th Annual Women Artists, hosted by the YWCA in Youngstown, Ohio. As the epigraph says, I was assigned to write about “Geneva Girls,” which depicted four women at the beach, standing in the ankle-deep water. Each woman reminded me of someone I’ve known—my grandmothers and aunts, in
particular. So as I wrote the poem, my memories of their lives and sentiments infused the lines.
—Julie L. Moore
Alice Campbell Romano
I wake up before you, some mornings.
You sleep without a sound, quite still.
We grow old. We grow older. We grow
meager like my bones. My arms above
our blanket, parched, the fragrant oils
massaged in last night’s fire-lit illusion,
dissipated. I grapple for the lurking phrase,
engaged in a persistent game inside my head.
You sleep, without a sound. Too still. Mouth
open. At last, the blanket rises with your breath.
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
These lines from Sir Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto VI, [My Native Land] are out of fashion now. My mother taught the poem to my little brother and me when we were children in the Hudson Highlands. We learned the power of sound to tell a story. I’m a narrative, lyric poet, a gift from my mother to which I returned late, having spent my working life writing for other people.
In Rome for 13 years, I was a script doctor who turned Italian sceneggiature into American movie scripts. My Italian husband was tapped to open the Los Angeles office of a film distribution
company. I wrote about movies but still not for myself—until poet Keven Bellows started a
workshop at our church for people who wanted to read and write poetry.
That first class, I arrived with something I’d written—and a sling to immobilize the breast. Cancer: removed that morning. Nothing should keep me from poetry, I figured. I’d discovered the zone. The deep search for the right words, the right sounds. Of course, we’ll never capture the famous
ineffable, but the quest makes our writing lives worthwhile.
I’m reading TREE LINES, 21ST Century American Poems, re-reading Ed Hirsch and always
appreciate Maria Popova's The Marginalian. I drift to sleep in the fantasy novels of Robin Hobb,
The Farseer Trilogy. By Zoom, I study with Jennifer Franklin at The Hudson Valley Writers’
Center, home again.
—Alice Campbell Romano
In the senior living community, birds multiply all spring. From nests built at eye level, tiny, saurian beaks gape. Gimme, gimme! they clamor. The parents fly back and forth all day, filling those maws.
If I had a worm, I’d proffer one in passing, just to give the parents a rest.
Papa sleeps in the afternoon, his jaw fallen so far I picture a rowboat entering the cavern, plunging down his gullet. In the belly of the Father, I, the boatperson, would drop my oars and sing a lullaby. Mother says he’s always been this way, escaping into sleep, absenting himself from the world. But
she also falls asleep in the day now, snoring in her chair, white legs thrust out—except at night,
when she tosses in pain.
Do the robin parents sleep, or must they bear food all night?
I, too, tire of others and am happiest in cool sheets. Bed: where the posture of death allows one to forget mortality; bed: where helplessness sleeps—I cannot end my parents’ pain, cannot prevent
their decline—subsides, and I open wide my infant beak to dreams.
I imagine I became a poet when my father, a German professor, read me poems on his lap by Else Lasker-Schüler and Heinrich Heine. I learned to speak German very young, and it was in that language I first encountered poetry. In the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, first grade, we had rhyming sayings to recite. There we also learned that when you paint a flower, you include its root or bulb.
This has remained with me. How it affects my aesthetic as a poet, I’m unsure. But the notion is
rooted (as it were) deep within. Perhaps the root is umbilical, in some sense, and I became a writer because my mother, a Displaced Person after WWII, had challenges expressing herself in any of the languages she knew. I, opening my beak, became the articulate one. Not that she isn’t, but in some way, I speak for her as well as myself.
In academia, I had to lay poetry aside for some time; I still wrote it, mainly to express strong
feelings, but I did not take myself seriously as “a poet.” I received my Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton University in 1992 and embarked on a long, unsuccessful job hunt. I finally was offered a tenure-track position at Knox College in 1998. I worked there for twenty years and found myself turning, after the publication of a scholarly book and articles, to creative forms of writing. I retired
at fifty-five and am now a free human being, poetry my primary mode of self-expression, followed
by the personal essay and fiction. After four post-retirement years in Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, I now live in the Hudson Valley, land of bears. The fauna here are my new muses.
Ana Roy always threw her key
out the second floor window of her
San Miguel home. “Come up!”
she’d call, her small head bobbing
as she peered from above and I’d
scramble up the winding cement stairs, eager
to expunge the day’s convoluted doings.
Her large apartment yawned with layers of
papers and books piled in dusty disarray,
works by local poets buried
under her keen eye for discernment.
I lay somewhere in the conglomeration of
her collections, a component of her search
for undiscovered talent, and sometimes
when I’d return to the magical city of my
poetiza birth, Ana would arrange a reading at
the Biblioteca, where once Jerome
Rothenberg came to hear me read.
He liked my work and told me so,
I puffed up like one of those
birds in National Geographic, then
went back to the States to corral
inner city middle schoolers into
speaking Spanish and bury myself
on weekends with paperwork,
like Ana’s zillions of piles.
One time when she didn’t throw the key
I bounced up the stairs and there she was,
72 year-old Ana in bed
with 26 year-old Alejandro.
I couldn’t speak, astonishment clutched
my throat while Ana threw up her
hands and rattled on about “the cave.”
I just left the folder for our little
Conejo en la luna magazine on the table
and fled down the stairs….I never did figure
out who was in the cave—him? Her?
Maybe it was all of us San Miguel seekers
lost and losing our identities in that
outdoor asylum. No one ever had money
and there were no TVs, no phones, only
a few cars, Ana with her lumbering, forever
dirt-covered VW hippy van, curtains waving
like slim ghosts from the windows, rumbling
down the cobblestone streets. On her way
to Pátzcuaro or Comonfort or maybe
just Gumbos where she’d order
a hamburger and wait for me
to pay. After Fernando, her
gay soulmate died, she
ended up lying on a long bed in the
apartment her dead sons had gifted her,
a lioness now lingering in slow decline
from Lou Gehrig’s curse. I read to her
while her good friend Gail rubbed
a lotion of love onto her tired feet
and somewhere in those piercing blue
eyes I saw that Ana was more than
a woman enslaved to the memory
of an abusive painter husband, more than
a tall gangly once-upon-a-time genius;
she was Ana, brilliant and sometimes
wise carrying this deep thing inside
her heart, which I could see, as I looked
at her and realized:
Ana Roy, you never ever felt sorry
for yourself, you just kept
bumping along the cobblestones of that
crazy city like a queen, like a Doña, like
a warrior on the path to her own salvation.
I hold a Masters in Post Vanguard Latin-American Poetry, so I am highly influenced by that genre, which exudes in imagery and colors, as well as a sense of the universal. These last few years I have been cocreating a blog, Bilingualborderless.com, with the young award-winning Mexican poet Marjha Paulino. Because I translate the Spanish of Mexican poets that are featured in the blog, I began to experiment with form and voice. In the poem, “Ana Roy”, I did not necessarily incorporate space as part of the narration; yet, I am still under the spell of the poets Marjha Paulino and Ulises Torres, both whom I have translated. What I find fascinating is since the pandemic began, I have begun to write much longer poems!
I stand a long time,
watching the dusky finch—
house finch, female—
eating from the thistle,
feet deep in thorn.
You have touched your daughter
the way a man should not touch
his daughter. Distant hiss
of traffic. The finch keeps on
spilling thistle seed.
I’m often drawn to poetry that is blunt and unresolved which can happen when different realities bump up against each other. Carl Phillips in his book, The Art of Daring, describes a poem called
“The Red Dog” by Laura Jensen that is wonderfully successful at this juxtaposition. She describes
how the dog (which she tells us is going to die) swims after a flock of Canada geese “while the
geese are moving off / to be their hard sounds / as their bodies leave the water.”
W.S. Merwin has been a long-time favorite poet for me, especially his poem, “Elegy” which is only
one line: “Who would I show it to”.
In the past 15 years I’ve come to appreciate the abundance of poets in Southern California, from Rae Armantrout to Gail Wronsky, many of whom have been interviewed for www.Poetry.LA, the
website that I curate.
All Editor's Choice poems from Summer Issue 2022 through Fall Issue 2023 will automatically be entered in our single-poem contest. Winner to be announced in Winter Issue 2024.
~ ~ ~
• Alison Hicks’ poem leaves me breathless. From the title to the fairy-tale menace of her first rhyming lines, she creates a jagged imperative with nowhere to go but down.
—Jane C. Miller
There are more you can’t see
than the yellow eye fixing you from the trees.
You can’t outrun them.
Force yourself to stay where you are and wait.
They move in a narrowing circle.
The alpha will reveal himself, his thick fur,
black, brown and white, tongue rolling over his teeth.
All the time he is watching you, giving silent orders.
You can approach in submission. You can play dead.
Makes no difference when you feel breath on your face.
They go first for protein-rich organs: heart, kidneys, liver.
Look into eyes as he consumes you,
inducts you into a language
that never penetrated you before: the growls,
the obsequies the others make before eating,
you are ready now.
I never started out to be a poet. I did aspire to be a writer from a young age (probably influenced by my two English professor parents), but for a long time, I figured I was a novelist. When I decided to apply to MFA programs in my early twenties, I chose fiction. I felt I didn’t understand enough about poetry, nor did I think I was touched by the divine in the way that I thought real poets had to be.
All the time, though, it was as if poetry was quietly tugging on my sleeve. I didn’t write for six years after getting my degree, and it was some years after that block had broken, not until my forties, that
I found myself writing poems that I realized were much better than the ones I’d been writing previously. Slowly I started taking myself more seriously as a poet. I joined a group of Philadelphia-area poets led by Leonard Gontarek, whom I continue to be challenged by and to learn from.
I discovered that what I really like to do is to play around with words on the page. And that I don’t need to “understand” as much as I used to think; I enjoy not always knowing what’s going on, the mystery that can open up there. The ending of “Predation” is a good example: it wasn’t a direction I specifically steered in, more something that happened as I worked the language.
Though I still write some fiction and non-fiction, I have published more poetry, including a
chapbook and three full-length collections. Still, I find myself a bit astonished to call myself a poet. Contemporary women poets have been a major influence, among them Jane Hirshfield, Marie
Howe, Alicia Ostriker, Carolyn Kizer and Ada Limón.
• Babo Kamel pulls us right into the story: even if we've never played mahjong, we too ponder the challenges of retirement; we too remind ourselves to practice gratitude, to better "bear the weight."
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
On becoming that woman retired to Florida who plays mahjong
I remember when she was something to overlook
in her daisy-decked hat, skin sun-beat, cigarette smoke
rising from a lime green ashtray
on the prerequisite pink pelican tablecloth
plastic and smelling like swim tubes
around grandkids who splashed and peed in the pool.
With a name like Florence or Melba
she served as an emblem for a life
mundane, silly, unconcerned
with important ideas,
like the ones in Philosophy 101
that made us question everything
or how art class could infect one
with an addiction to negative space.
My god I was unaware
that around the corner
someone’s mother labored over laundry
not her own.
I thought my mother erudite
complicated quoting Betty Friedan
but telling me to always let the boy pay.
And adventurous, too.
Travelling in Mexico with my artist father
she sketched with an eye for juxtaposition
and the temporary joy of a rose
pinned on the braid of a dark-haired girl.
When we first moved to Florida, it felt like giving up.
Settling into a place with strip malls empty as regret
and billboards declaring Jesus waited
just around the corner from the shop
selling guns and salvation, where at every other Publix
parking lot a woman stood with a small child
her hair a nest of hunger and want
holding a sign that said Anything Helps.
Sometimes we stopped but mostly we didn’t
our car filled with buy one get ones
rushing home before the ice cream would melt
and despite the surprise of a Florida
filled with red hibiscus like sex on front lawns
the honeysuckle and its jazz of bee buzz
the pas de deux of the sandhill cranes
in slow motion courtship and yes
the deep companionship of women playing mahjong
sometimes I find myself head-weary at night
with an ache in my neck wondering
how to give thanks, how to bear the weight.
As the daughter of an artist, I learned early the power of the image. It is through this lens, I most
often viewed the world. Sometimes images stayed with me for years before experience caught up and
I could fully engage with the journey of discovering meaning. Over time, I learned to connect
equally with story, and so my work often incorporates both lyric and narrative.
Aside from nursery rhymes (which I loved) my earliest memory of the lure of poetry was “The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes. The combination of image, story and the inherent music was
I do not have a list of favorite poets, but I often return to Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Naomi Shihab Nye, Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Larry Levis. I love poems that move associatively, that
take unpredictable paths to end up in a very different place from where they began.
• Am. Amn’t. Such complex creatures we humans are—and this is so beautifully illustrated in Devon
The Verb to Be and Almost a Love Poem
Am sweetgum tree (great color one season, quickly tall, dropping messy-prickly balls all year).
Amn’t giant sequoia.
Amn’t hybrid rose.
Amn’t peony or forget-me-not.
Am pointe shoe.
Am potato chip.
Am big-wave-on-rock-coast salty.
Am Mona Lisa candy box & TV Hamlet. Amn’t Madonna of the Rocks. Amn’t Hamlet. Am Emphaticalist.
Amn’t Nominalist or Realist.
Am pen. Am paper. Am scratch and fold. Amn’t calligraphy or ornamented capital.
Am yours. Am mine.
My Irish great-grandmother, I was told, commonly used “amn’t,” which is a perfectly acceptable contraction in Scots and Irish English. The internet tells me that it isn’t in common use because it’s ungainly and awkward, which seems to me to be balderdash. The OED refers to it as “non-standard,” which may or may not be a bit of English snobbery. Anyway, it has stayed with me. I use it
occasionally just to fuddle people, but had never thought about putting it into a poem until this
poem popped into my head in the middle of a free-write with my students (in a class called “Poetry
as Equipment for Living”) and it made me happy. If it is “ungainly” and “awkward” then it’s
particularly suited to a love poem, I think.
• We all deserve a moment in nature like this, to witness “a plummeting cormorant in a corkscrew dive,”
“ballyhoo in his beak”. I chose Ann Weil’s poem because of its delicious word choices, its crystal images, and
its sheer exuberance.
—Gail Braune Comorat
Where Edge of Sky Meets Curve of Sea
She sits at the stern of her flat-bottomed skiff, motors out in a sea of milky jade. An ordinary air-breather, no glistening scales— just a woman, grandmother, skin to burn, leaving walking world for
the swim of things at the meeting point of edge and curve. Her boat leaves a white bubbling trail,
fairy foam, champagne fizz. As tempting as it is to watch the wake her eyes are horizon-honed, rewarded first with a plummeting cormorant in a corkscrew dive down to the deep then reappeared, ballyhoo in his beak and quick as blink gone down his throat just a sliver of silver left hanging. The woman laughs, feels her stomach rumble. Ahead lay the mangroves, green skirts lifted high, their spindly stick legs a low-tide show, and there on a branch two great herons rest, white robes dazzling against blue sky. Off Mud Key, in the backcountry flats, she reaches the sandbars, beaches her boat
and wades to the meeting point, the great reunion where she sheds her skin some six decades old
and runs as only a child can on a stretch of sand. Gull chaser, shell leaper, cart-wheeler, maker of
surf angels as the tidepools lap— she lies akimbo, lets the sun bake and brown her body. She smells
her ocean-self, licks her shoulder to taste its salt, wishes for gills— a blowhole at least— for fins and tail instead of legs.
Ask me to talk about poetry? Where do I begin? Like many ൪uartet poets, I feel a deep affinity with Mary Oliver’s work, and a number of her gorgeous lines have served as guideposts throughout my
life. The profoundly simple You do not have to be good (“Wild Geese”) gave me permission to let go
of perfectionism and people-pleasing (still working on the latter!). Oliver’s “The Journey,” which
begins with One day you finally knew what you had to do and ends with …you strode deeper and
deeper into the world…determined to save the only life that you could save provided a much-needed
dose of courage at a difficult time. And …all my life I was a bride married to amazement (“When
Death Comes”) has become a mantra for how I want to live each day. I wrote “Where Edge of Sky Meets Curve of Sea” after a glorious afternoon spent sand-bar hopping in the backcountry flats of
the Florida Keys. The experience left me in a state of amazement, due not only to the area’s exquisite natural beauty but also to a new appreciation for play and the return to childhood pursuits. When
was the last time you made a sand-angel?
A Conversation with
Marcie R. Rendon and TanayaWinder
൪uartet interviewed First Nations poets Marcie R. Rendon and Tanaya Winder about their poems “Resilience” and “Learning to Say I Love You,” which appear at the end of this interview.
Marcie R. Rendon Tanaya Winder
൪: Marcie R. Rendon and Tanaya Winder, thank you for agreeing to this interview. The poems you have chosen speak to an internal and external geography that is rooted in people. Craig Santos Perez in his poem, “Interwoven” says, “We both carry the deep grief / of survival.” Do your poems speak to each other across generations and if so, how?
MRR: I think that both of our poems speak to at least three generations, maybe four and that
Tanaya’s is to her grandmother, who I am probably old enough to be, and yet the boarding school
experience took my mother from me even though I got to live with her for five to six years. And
while she spoke our language, it was her father, my grandfather who tried to teach us how to re-
speak it. I think we had historically some generations of despair, which I think is the absence of
hope, the complete sense of loss. There was the loss of land, children, language, personal sovereignty,
but I think we are healing. We are recovering our ability to feel the grief, recognize our collective
TW: For me, just seeing the poems in terms of that familial aspect, I really liked how Marcie’s poem
set the scene, letting us picture what it’s like to be there, the details of it. One of the lines in her
poem, about going to war in wars that aren’t ours, I see that speaking to my poem. Even learning to
speak your language is like fighting that war. You know people took our language from us and now
we’re in this language revitalization. Marcie’s work spoke to the rupture of families, the mothers
who loved their children, the fathers who stayed. I really see that speaking to my poem, that concept
of learning to love despite those wars that we’ve experienced, despite those hurts and those harms. I
thought it was really perfect, not knowing what poem Marcie was going to send in and then just
picking mine, seeing how they both are in that dialogue.
൪: Both poems start from the person and expand the personal to the universal. Would you talk about how they came to you, why you took that approach?
MRR: I am obsessed with the idea that we are way more resilient than we are traumatized, and I
think the thoughts of how to articulate that are sort of constantly roaming through my heart and
brain. If I can tap into that, I can get something written. I also think that what others see as our
trauma is often us actually doing the very best we can to bounce, to be resilient.
TW: I love that. We need a book of your quotes, Marcie, “Daily Affirmations.” I think for me the
move from the personal to the universal is just how we really learn as humans. As indigenous people,
we are taught things through stories. If something happened to me in the day and it upset me or
negatively impacted me or maybe I was acting in not the best way, my family would tell me a story.
It could be something from their lifetime. It could be something from our ancestral tribes. In that
story, I would extrapolate my own lessons, my own meaning. And I think because that’s how
I learned and make sense of the world, that’s how I try to put that same type of learning into poems.
൪: These poems embody love, but it’s love hard-won. Would you talk about that?
MRR: Years ago, I spent a number of years working as a therapist. One of the things I learned was
that there are times when there are things that are so hard. In a study of people returning from
Vietnam, they found that people who’d been through that war, because everything was so life-and-
death, they literally shut off their feelings. They shut off the capacity to feel love and I think that
compares to the boarding schools and the removal of our children. And our people, in order to
continue in the face of the despair, I think oftentimes we shut off our ability to feel love because it
becomes too painful to feel that love along with the loss, coupled with the loss.
In Native country, you hear a lot of talk about decolonizing our minds. And at the first Healing
from Boarding School Conference (in 2018 at Carlisle, Pennsylvania), I gave a talk and one of the
things I said was that I was going to copyright the phrase, “We need to decolonize our hearts.” We
have to give ourselves permission to not just feel the heartbreak of love, but to actually feel love—
that generosity, that warmth, that beauty of looking at another person.
TW: Thank you for sharing that, Marcie. That’s wonderful. I forgot about your background in
therapy too and that’s so lovely how that can come through your work too and help people heal
through reading your poems, reading your stories, reading your fiction.
But in terms of poems embodying love, I feel like there’s no way to write without it having that love
or being made from love. A lot of my work has been trying to unpack people just thinking about
love in terms of looking for romantic love or intimate love or familial love, but recognizing self-love:
we can love the environment, how it takes care of us when we take care of it, our tribal love, our
Writing is such a scared act, and for many of us who get gifted with that ability to write, to tell
stories, that’s our medicine, that’s how we bring healing into the world. Writing is like a prayer, it is
like doing ceremony. That’s how I feel when we write, that we’re connected to that higher power.
Because it is that sacred act and because it comes from something that was gifted to us, because we
can hold all of these things, all of that history Marcie talks about, too, because we can hold all of
that, we can channel it into something that can help other people feel, too--love is flowing
throughout it. I can’t imagine writing something that doesn’t have that love. Maybe when I try to
write something that doesn’t have that love, then it doesn’t become a finished poem or it doesn’t
൪: How do your poems act as a container for history, just as the body is the container of history – the past walking with the present? How do both poems enact, past and present, the war and will to survive?
MRR: I feel like I’ve already spoken to that.
TW: I’ve always thought of poems and poetry as a way to time travel and manipulate time and that’s
one of the healing things about it. You know in life, big events matter: someone’s graduation, a
wedding, or a funeral—those stick out in our minds. But when you’re remembering or feeling or
grieving, you don’t remember the big event, you remember the moment or you want to remember
those moments: when was the last time my grandma rubbed my hair, when was the last time I held
her hand, what did it feel like. In a poem, it’s the only time, and no offense to the other genres, but I
feel more so in poetry, it’s the only time you can take that moment and elevate it to the significance
and weight of an event, where me having this conversation where my grandmother is drinking
coffee and teaching me how to say I love you can mean everything because I need it to. You can heal
yourself in that way and that’s what I just really love and appreciate about poetry containing the
present and the past, but also thinking about the future.
In this poem in particular when I ask my grandma “how do you say, where did you go? And where are you going? / Questions that layer my tongue in ash, reminding me of fire,” I am specifically thinking about, and it relates to my fuller collection, losing a friend to suicide. I asked him those questions one night when he was running away: “Where are you going?” and then when he came back and later when we had worried about him, I said, “Where did you go?” Knowing that my grandmother was getting older and not wanting her to go, I wrote, “When I want to say, /
take me with you it dis so l v e s”
because I know I can’t go with her. All of those things relate to later in the poem when I ask:
“Teach me how to talk to the ones who need it most. / …gift me words /
that l i n g e r”
I work with Native youth and a lot of them deal with suicidality and mental health issues, and how
can I take all of that, even though I cannot speak fluently and even go or help the way I wanted to, I
can use language to speak to that future generation, so I think it holds, it can hold all of those, time-
bound, but also timeless at the same time.
൪: Marcie, your poem is such a kaleidescope of people, events and actions that feel both concrete and timeless. Would you talk about how you chose the descriptions you included in the poem?
MRR: I don’t know. My writing tends to be very organic. What I wanted to do when I set out to write
the piece was to write something about many of the things people define as our trauma. War, going
to war is trauma. But coming back, people exhibited resilience in all kinds of ways. My mom
running from boarding school when she was 12, however old you are in 7th grade, I just think…the determination, the resilience that it took for her to do that. Then to have four children. There’s
something that just helps us keep going forward. And I think a lot of that is relationship, that each
of these things is about a relationship with other people, relationship with our culture that binds us,
where we are bonded together. That’s also what resilience is, that ability to bond, to be together, to
do with and for each other, not to be isolated off here by ourselves.
൪: What about poetic techniques? What techniques and forms served you in your poems?
MRR: I have a very quick answer. My writing is very organic. I am not a product of any educational
program. I never studied poetry or writing so my technique and form is whatever I write and then
how it ends up on the page, and so I’ll write and then I think I form it. I don’t even know the kinds
of poetry that are out there. I don’t and yet I have, sometimes I say, I have been anthologized to
death. I can’t tell you anything more than that. That’s me (Laughter).
൪: I love it. Inspiration takes you where it takes you. I love your description of lipstick and duct tape. How did you arrive at those surprising details?
MRR: I’m a parent, a grandparent, I’m a great-grandparent and with so many people in my life, a lot
of times I’m working things in my head before I ever sit down to write. The discarded lipstick and
eyeshadow: years ago, I’m going to say in the early 1990s, I did an article for the Circle newspaper
about a Native man here in the (Twin) Cities who did exactly that. He was homeless and he would
collect makeup and eyeshadow and things he would find on the street and then he would do
paintings exhibited in the gallery at the Indian Center here.
In my writing, I was raised rural. I haven’t ever really owned a television and so my existence in the
world is paying attention to all of these little things. You know, I can still see in my mind these little
white butterflies that used to fly around our house. We lived down by a river, so I think that things
are stored in my mind and then I put them out. And I’m always writing in my head, so when I do sit
down to write, some of it is already formed. If I have a technique, that’s probably it. (Laughter)
TW: I love that you said that, because I feel like that’s how I write too, like I just am observing and
taking it all in and then sit down and it comes out. I was formally educated in poetry for undergrad
and grad, but I also don’t like forms. I probably couldn’t even name many of them now or if I could
name them, I wouldn’t know the rules or how to write in that way (Laughter).
It’s like making bread. My grandma didn’t write down the recipe, but she knew how it felt, how
much salt to add, how much flour, playing with the dough, forming it. I feel like that’s how each
poem is, letting it choose its form, but for this one I know I have two lines where it says “it dissolves”
like the language and I stretch out the letters, the same with “linger.” I like to make up my own little
rules, like things that feel right when I’m doing them. The whole poem is in couplets, but those
points in particular where things are breaking, it’s just the one line because I imagine the invisible
second line in that couplet is something in the language, something I don’t have the words to be able
to write or say. So much of it is trusting the poem and your intuition.
൪: Kimberly Blaeser said, “To be a Native literary artist today means to continue to feed the
heartbeat of both resistance and continuance.” In both poems, is struggle also the act of doing and
TW: I’ll jump in there, Marcie. I feel for me, the act of just reclaiming language, reclaiming
storytelling, reclaiming learning from your relatives—how to speak, particularly when colonization
tried to wipe away our language, and wipe away our culture, is reclaiming a sense of self. When you
lose somebody, when you encounter loss in general, loss of language, loss of loved ones, loss of life,
feeling like you have lost yourself, and feeling lost. I say “I am lost lodged somewhere in my throat //
between decades of bro ken syll a bles,” wanting to relearn, wanting to be
taught. Part of that is an ask, a prayer and that’s what I mean in my poem when I say, “Dear
Universe, gift me words” because that, for me, is reclamation.
MRR: What is struggle? I think we often get romanticized for being strong, for surviving the struggle.
I would rather focus on our beauty, our resilience, our decisions and actions to reclaim, rebuild,
continue to become. Gerald Vizenor who is an Ojibwe, has written a book about survivance and one
of the things he says is that “Survivance is an active sense of presence, the continuation of Native
stories, not a mere reaction or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciation of
dominance, tragedy and victimry. Simply, survivance is survival plus resistance.” And I’m not even
sure I like the word resistance. (Laughter) There’s something about just being! When we are in our
sovereignty, when we are in our personal, our tribal sovereignty, we are. It’s not a reaction. It’s not a
pushing back. It’s being. And Tanaya’s poem about being with her grandmother, this is about being.
൪: Would you talk about the call of the sacred and bearing witness in your poems?
MRR: Ever since I started writing, I began to create stories so that other Native peoples can see
themselves. I grew up in an era where other Native writers weren’t visible. There just wasn’t. I
couldn’t walk into a library and get a book about us. I never had a mirror for my existence and that’s
what I want to do for others. I’m also aware that at contact we didn’t have a written language so the
Other wrote of our perception of us. We didn’t have a voice of our own experiences and so I want to
give voice. I think that our word is sacred and our presence is sacred. And I write some stuff that is
really way over here —people will say, “Oh you’re talking about sacred, I don’t think so, Marcie,” but
some of my stuff is pushing, because I think that everything is sacred, our humor and I think that
sometimes there’s such a…we lost so much that we try so hard to be something. So some of it I poke
fun at, that‘s what I’m trying to say.
TW: That’s great. I really love what you said about everything being sacred cause that’s how I feel,
too. I feel at least where I am at now in my work is wanting to write things that remind us of our
sacredness and that we are sacred and that even though things have happened to us or to our people,
that nothing has touched our spirit. Our spirit has always been sacred, has always been strong, has
always been whole and unbreakable. I feel for me with bearing witness, having worked with kids so
young and just seeing them struggle, wanting to write something for them so they can feel seen, so
they could have a roadmap or see a path that was there.
The call of the sacred and bearing witness is in poems, too. I feel in this capitalistic world, you’re
told that you’re worth something if you make a lot of money, if you have a degree, if you’ve done all
of these things, and yes, I’m so grateful when our people make it and do get that abundance, that
wealth and education is so important and I love celebrating our graduates, but that path isn’t meant
for everybody. Some people want to just work the land, want to collect seeds and help regenerate
them, and that doesn’t mean that their life is less than or less sacred than those people who are
viewed as that “successful” in this society, this American capitalistic society.
When I think about my grandma, for instance, I remember telling her, “I want to write about you
and your life,” and she said, “Why do you want to write about me. I didn’t do anything. Your
grandpa went to school. Your grandpa was the rancher.” But just knowing I love the way I love
because of my grandmother because of her surviving and still coming out through the other side and
not bitter and still just so sweet and kind—that, to me, is something worth bearing witness to, a
story worthy of telling, and so I think that’s why I write the way I write.
൪: Each poem creates a landscape that lays bare the present, and the dual challenge of building a future that keeps traditions alive. Please speak to the importance of traditions, both explicit and implicit, in your poems. How important is it to claim this legacy, to name it, to give it dignity? And who is it directed to?
MRR: I’m always writing to a Native audience and my hope is that it touches other people. But really
my primary audience is other Native people. I’m back to the decolonize your hearts statement.
That’s what I’m trying to push people to think about. If we do practice the traditions, and if we do
things…so much of who we are is in our languages and so much got taken when the languages were
taken from us. Like in Ojibwe, there’s no word for forgiveness, and what does that mean? If you have
to be personally responsible all of the time for everything that you do--it’s this whole other thing to
write about in my mind. So much of even our understanding of the world gets lost when the
language is taken.
TW: Like Marcie, I write all my poems for my people, for an indigenous audience in the hopes that
some things are universal in there and that there’s things everybody can relate to. But I guess in
terms of that dual challenge of building a future and keeping traditions alive, for me I guess in the
poem, it’s something I read differently now, just given the times: “Teach me I’m coming with
you so it sits / rock heavy in my mouth because my tongue is at war // with history.” I think that will
always be the case. I don’t think I will ever be able to be fully fluent in my language because of
everything that was taken and I’m always going to be in that struggle, continually dealing with and
processing my anger and grief over what has been taken, and where does that leave me now, trying
to write when I want to say something, doing the best I can with what I have.
There’s so much, and the struggle even in my lifetime with all the things that have been created like
the internet and smart phones, and now there’s TikTok, and just so many things that distract. I
guess people are making it their own, and they learn about other tribes and cultures, and it’s a great
way to share knowledge and information, but for me, it can be such a distraction like that numbing
Marcie talked about earlier— Let me just binge watch this show because I’ve been stressed, and
being an indigenous person in this country today is hard.
It’s a struggle in the sense that I don’t just get to go to work and do my job and then exercise and
have this balanced, full life that some of my white colleagues have. I have to, I want to go to
ceremony to make sure to keep these things alive. If I want to learn my language, I need to study it. I
need to talk to people. I need to interview. There’s just this whole other layer of living that this kind
of lifestyle doesn’t always sustain, and it will always be a struggle and it will always be something
that we do, that we keep doing, but people don’t always understand it, in living and in writing.
If somebody passes away, there’s things you have to do. You have to go home. Keeping the culture
alive is something you have to invest your time and heart into and it takes a lot of energy, and those
are the things we want to do, but it’s hard. Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed, it would be so
much easier if…but I’m grateful for what we have. It helps me walk through the world in a way I
wouldn’t be able to without it. But at some level, all that I feel is in everything we write, whether
people see it or not. There’s that whole iceberg of things happening to the living being, the
indigenous poet writing it.
൪: Both of you work in a range of mediums. Why write poetry? What do poems offer you as writers that are of value to you?
MRR: As someone whose parents and grandparents spoke their First language, for me I’ve been
learning Ojibwe my entire adult life and still talk like baby talk. Tanaya’s poem speaks to that
continued effort to keep trying and the reasons why we continue to learn and why the learning is
important, and why the connection across generations is important. Her poem answers these
questions, this question.
Why do I write poetry? Sometimes that’s the only writing that comes out of me. Most of my poetry I
don’t sit down and think “I’m going to write a poem about spring daffodils.” This resilience one I
probably wrote at 9:30 at night after the graves were found in Canada. I was thinking that there
were no interstates back when my mom ran from a boarding school. There were no cell phones,
there was nothing. It was probably gravel roads from South Dakota to Northern Minnesota. It just
poured out of me, the whole thing. It’s almost like I can’t not write poetry. I can not do journalism, I
can not do a short story, (laughter) but if I get a poem running in my head, I’ve got to sit down and
TW: Thank you for that Marcie. I love how you said that you can’t not do it. Hearing you say it,
that’s how I feel, too. My relationship to poetry is so interesting. Sometimes I just am, “Do I even
have anything original to say, have I said everything I’m supposed to say?” (Laughter) But it bursts
up in you, and you just get it out.
But why poetry? I like poetry because I feel it’s everything in a way. As someone who’s a very highly
emotive person and feels a lot of things, you can channel it in different ways. Poetry can be a punch,
it can be a deep breath, a breath of fresh air, it can be that calm meditation you need and that’s
what I love about it. You can channel what needs to come through you and put it into these
different forms that it needs to be in. For me, that’s why poetry, because it offers those bursts and it
can be short, and it can be long, and it can be deep. It can even be one sentence that resonates and
sticks with you. As somebody who has a hard time making up her mind, I think it’s good because
poetry has all of those different options (Laughter).
൪: Who are the poets that have inspired you, that inspire you now?
MRR: Obviously, Tanaya, when I read your first stuff, I was like “Damn!” I went to find everything
that I could find that you’d written. I heard you when you came to Minneapolis to read at the Loft.
Your writing is very powerful and it’s heart-felt. So, you and Joy Harjo. I have not read a lot of Joy
Harjo’s poems, but I’ve been in her presence when she’s read her work and it always moves me. So
those are two current poets who inspire me. I think that growing up the people I read were African
American poets and I think that’s where I first said, “Oh they can do this, I can do this.” And I’ve
always been a fan of Nikki Giovanni and then another current poet is the spoken word poet Bao Phi.
He's a Vietnamese poet here in the Twin Cities.
TW: I feel similarly. One of the first poets who really inspired, because we didn’t read a lot in my
high school, was Saul Williams, the spoken word poet. The first time I saw him do spoken word was
on a movie one of our teachers showed us. I was like wow, and so that got me into writing poetry.
And then Cherríe Moraga, Natalie Diaz and also Joy, seeing somebody who does what she does, so
multi-faceted, storytelling, her saxophone, her performing, singing, and then of course Marcie, too.
I feel like going to school, people tell you, you have to do all the things to be an accomplished poet.
But like Marcie said, she’s never been formally educated in writing in that way, but she’s such a
powerhouse and has done such important work around murdered and missing indigenous women,
and relatives. I love to share Marcie’s work because I want all my students to know you don’t have to
study poetry or get your MFA. You can follow whatever else your heart calls you and all that can
still go into your writing and make you just as good of, and honestly, probably a better poet because
you are getting to see other things in the world. Those are the people who come to my mind and
Layli Long Solider too. I feel like she does some really interesting things. Marcie probably feels the
same way too, but there are so many more Native writers now than ever. As soon as we read them,
we will be inspired, by making the time to read and find out who’s all out there now.
൪: Thank you for sharing your time and your work with us.
Resilience Marcie R. Rendon
My mother, in 7th grade, ran from a South Dakota boarding school back home to White Earth in
an age before Interstate highways, cell phones or google maps. That determination and love of
life is resilience.
A Native father sitting in Perkins, after working a late shift, with a two-year-old toddler in a
high-chair. explains that the baby’s mother showed up at his door with a child he didn’t know
existed and said, “Here, I’ve done this for two years, I’m done. He’s yours.” He didn’t hesitate to
do the right thing. That is resilience.
The woman who lost her child to child protection because she was caught in the cycle of
addiction and street life. Sent to prison. Who spent five years getting clean, going to meetings,
petitioning the court against all odds to regain custody of her child. That is resilience.
The poet, who grew up with a not-so-easy life in Oklahoma. Resilience gave her words to write,
now US poet laureate. Resilience also gave her music in her heart that pours out of her
saxophone, healing hearts of listeners.
A Native Artist living on the street collected discarded lipstick and eyeshadow to create gallery-
worthy paintings. Creating beauty out of beauty-discards. That is resilience.
My father, along with thousands of other fathers, for more generations than we want to
remember, sat alone, not changing residence, waiting, waiting, waiting for children to return.
That is resilience.
Men who went to prison – who somehow came out and started businesses, who raised families
and took jobs way below their skill level; who became sweat lodge runners, sun dancers and
pipe carriers.That is resilience.
The children, raised in families outside the culture, who followed their heart’s spirit back home
–facing rejection, ridicule, identity-questioning – but staying, becoming one with the
community, one with their tribe. That is resilience.
Mothers - who, with or without shame, have stood in line at Salvation Army for cheap toy
giveaways, food shelf lines, who sit in welfare offices again and again because it is one way to
keep the family going. That is resilience.
Our relatives who never hesitate to go to war, wars that are never ours. Code talkers, tunnel
rats, snipers, those who walk point, medics. They die fighting because that is what we do. Or
they come home and hide the pain as best they can and carry flags at Grand Entry. Or not. That
People who give more than they get. Mothers who love their children, fathers who stay.
Grandparents who babysit, even in a wheelchair.
We create beauty out of scraps. Hold cars together with duct tape. Work jobs and sell
beadwork for cash to ‘have a little extra’. Make frybread even though we know it isn’t good for
the diabetes but because it’s good for the spirit.
Resilience is making decisions that benefit the whole instead of just the individual. It is getting
up and putting one foot in front of the other, even when you don’t want to. This is our
"Resilience" was originally published in the anthology Living Nations, Living Words (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021) edited by Joy Harjo, 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate.
Marcie R. Rendon is an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, author, playwright, poet, and
freelance writer. Also a community arts activist, Rendon supports other native artists / writers /
creators to pursue their art, and is a speaker for colleges and community groups on Native issues,
She is an award-winning author of a fresh new murder mystery series, and also has an extensive
body of fiction and nonfiction works.
The creative mind behind Raving Native Theater, Rendon has also curated community created
performances such as Art Is… Creative Native Resilience, featuring three Anishinaabe performance
artists, which premiered on TPT (Twin Cities Public Television), June 2019.
Rendon was recognized as a 50 over 50 Change-maker by MN AARP and POLLEN in 2018. Rendon
and Diego Vazquez received a 2017 Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship for their work with women incarcerated in county jails.
Learning to Say I Love You Tanaya Winder
my favorite conversations are with my grandmother while she
teaches me words in "Indian" as she says. I ask,
how do you say, where did you go? And where are you going?
Questions that layer my tongue in ash, reminding me of fire,
the taste. Each time I speak, the slow burn of every loss I have
witnessed cracks my lips. Go and going – acts singed
into my bones so I ask. Teach me I’m coming with you so it sits
rock heavy in my mouth because my tongue is at war
with history, boarding school “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”
acts of colonization. Strain pronunciation. When I want to say,
take me with you it dis so l v e s
before I can stomach the sweetness of language. Ours,
I am losing. I am lost lodged somewhere in my throat
between decades of bro ken syll a bles. Teach me how
to reach the ones who are born already running.
Teach me how to talk to the ones who need it most.
Dear Universe, gift me words
that l i n g e r
softly like dusk. There must be a phrase
to contain wherever you go
whether or not you know where you have been
or where you are going.
"Learning to Say I Love You" first appeared in Words Like Love (West End Press, 2015), and then in the republished version of Words Like Love (UNM Press, 2021).
Tanaya Winder is an author, singer / songwriter, poet, and motivational speaker who comes from an intertribal lineage of Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, and Duckwater Shoshone Nations where
she is an enrolled citizen. She received a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA in
creative writing from the University of New Mexico. Winder’s poetry collections include Words
Like Love and Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless. Tanaya’s
performances and talks blend storytelling, singing, and spoken word to teach about different
expressions of love and “heartwork.” Her specialties include youth & women empowerment, healing
trauma through art, creative writing workshops, and mental wellness advocacy.
൪uartet wishes to thank Marcie R. Rendon and Tanaya Winder for their generosity in agreeing to this conversation with editor Jane C. Miller.
Sea Nettles: New and Selected Poems
Sue Ellen Thompson
Sue Ellen Thompson's sixth book of poetry, Sea Nettles: New and Selected Poems, delves into life's connections and disconnections with both intimacy and honesty, as its author contemplates how situations so often stray from expectations. The very first poem of the book introduces
this dichotomy, with adept off-rhymes and strong rhythms—
So do not bask in gratitude or relief
over what you have avoided or achieved.
It is not toward the expected that the Universe inclines.
For you, the Universe has something else in mind. ("The Universe")
New poems are followed by poems from two previous collections, and, in both, Thompson is a wonderful storyteller—she writes about aging parents and funerals:
the cat sits by his bowl expectantly,
I still hear my father say, “I'll have
another, as long as you're up.'” ("In Common")
- she writes of a daughter growing up and away:
I wonder how I could have missed
what our child was trying to tell us:
that they were in mourning, had somewhere
to go, and could see what they had to
without any help from us. (“Graduation Day, 2002")
- she recalls high and low moments of married life:
…we just stand there, leaning in
to one another, until that moment
of sheer blessedness dissolves and our skin,
which has been touching, cools and relents, (“Leaning In")
Near book's end her poems lead us to a heart-rending acknowledgment:
On a wooden chaise by the water's edge
I dozed and read, dozed and read,
forgetting that my mother was dead,
that my daughter had decided she was a man,
and that I was living apart from my husband.
...I drifted, so far from familiar shores,
it was as if I'd fallen overboard
and no one noticed. ("July 17")
Throughout this eloquent book, its author does not hesitate to confront pain and the dilemma of whether passing time might dull its sting, whether from relationships or sea nettles. So movingly does she share with us, and so freely does her mix of candor and tenderness invite us in, that we are led to look more closely at our own lives. The last poem in the book, "Inheritance," poignantly expresses a kind of acceptance that feels almost like triumph: life is a journey that, whether heartbreaking or joyous, serves as source for growth.
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll